Master Chief Billy Sunday was a real-life U.S. Navy diver whose story partly inspired the character portrayed by Robert De Niro in the film “Men of Honor.” He was not the main character but served as a composite of various diving instructors. The main character, Carl Brashear, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., was the first African American to become a U.S. Navy Master Diver, overcoming both institutional racism and a crippling injury.
Billy Sunday was known for his tough, uncompromising training methods and his eventual support of Brashear’s efforts to become a master diver. In real life, Sunday’s career continued in the Navy until his retirement. The film dramatizes his role and creates a narrative that serves the purpose of highlighting Brashear’s struggles and triumphs. After his service, Sunday’s life went on outside the public eye, and there is limited information available about his personal life post-retirement. The character’s name in the film, “Billy Sunday,” is a fictional one, and the real individuals who inspired the character had different names and possibly different post-service experiences.